While many business leaders feel at ease developing a rapid growth strategy, appeasing cranky board members, or driving the company toward an IPO before their first cup of coffee, they shriek when asked about the company’s IT structure. Evaluating an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or selecting servers simply isn’t their bread and butter. However, a healthy organization continually assesses IT issues for opportunities -- and threats.
One of the most difficult aspects of leadership is recognizing when the time has arrived to make updates to the infrastructure that enables you to deliver for employees and clients alike. Before a do-it-yourself software projects goes awry or an application project falls behind schedule, business leaders should proactively identify potential IT weaknesses as a way to circumvent threats that might jeopardize security or render the network useless.
Below are the top five questions business leaders should ask when assessing the company’s IT solutions:
Is your IT infrastructure scalable? IT infrastructure is not “one size fits all.” Do not make the mistake of taking this point lightly. Invest in systems that will grow with your business. Specific factors like the size and potential growth of the company should be thoroughly analyzed before a major hardware purchase. If your business is undergoing any substantial organizational changes, such as a merger or an IPO, issues in electronics systems, databases, routers, and networking need to be considered. The performance of your system should improve after adding hardware (proportionally to the capacity added) to be an effective, scalable system.
If your current system is not scalable or simply outdated, evaluate other options that have come on the market since your last IT purchase. In today’s market, software as a service (SaaS) is one preferred model of application deployment. The SaaS value proposition lies in the remote hosting of applications, which are then provided to customers across the Internet, rather than as an on-site desktop application or server appliance.
Do you see your servers in a closet when you hang up your coat or get coffee? Don’t dismiss this as the running joke of the office. Let this serve as a warning that your server room is too full to house the company’s current IT infrastructure. By eliminating the need to install and run the application on the customer's own equipment, SaaS alleviates the burdens of space constraints, software maintenance, licensing, and support, and can dramatically reduce your organization’s power consumption and carbon footprint. If SaaS isn’t for you, be sure to research not only initial costs of the software you choose, but also the ongoing costs that could potentially nickel-and-dime your IT funds into nonexistence.
Is there a planned obsolescence in the future of your equipment? One type of ongoing cost to be aware of is planned obsolescence. Also known as "sunsetting," planned obsolescence refers to a conscientious decision by the manufacturer to render a product obsolete or non-functional after a certain period of time. After the sunset date, application providers will cease supporting the product and require customers to upgrade to the latest version in order to continue receiving technical assistance and product updates. Since planned obsolescence affects nearly every piece of enterprise software today, it should be a front-of-mind consideration during the purchasing process.
Is your IT infrastructure secure? As Douglas MacArthur once said, “There is no security on this earth. Only opportunity.” Although network security is never entirely immune to external (and internal) threats, efforts can be made to prevent unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, and destruction of information. The inevitability of employee errors makes the case for technological safety nets which prevent Jim in accounting from overwriting an entire customer database. Or Pam at the front desk from downloading a network-ravaging virus that she thought was a screen saver. A secure network is leak-proof, guards against compliance violations, and protects valuable company software and data without compromising the ability of employees to do their jobs efficiently.
Are you able to encode IT rules? Not all departments are created equal. Your company’s IT infrastructure should be flexible enough to both protect the network’s security and serve different groups on a by-need basis. For instance, research needs may require marketing employees to access certain websites (such as blogs and personal networking sites) that should be blocked for members of other departments.
Do the separate components of your business speak to each other? Business leaders recognize that communication among employees and across departments fundamentally impacts the efficiency and quality of work produced. But these same leaders often overlook an equally important type of communication -- the interoperability of company software. Can your customer relationship management (CRM) software interface seamlessly with your knowledgebase? Can your anti-virus solution exchange information with your firewall software? Is marketing creating documents in Office 2007 that the rest of the organization can’t view because they are using Office 2003? Placing the correct tools in the hands of employees will not only make users more efficient, but also encourage communication, reduce frustration, and. alleviate administrative burdens on the IT staff.
Successful IT tools and strategies take time to establish and maintain, but without them, a business has no hope of succeeding. As C.P. Snow, a reporter for The New York Times once wrote, “Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.”
Mike Gorsage is a partner with Tatum LLC. Tatum is the nation’s largest executive services firm, providing financial and technology leadership nationwide.